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The Essence of Strategy

Everything Depends on the Situation

Introduction

What is the essence of good strategy? The attempt to answer that question has filled more
pages of business books than anyone could count, most of them essentially useless.

The world is full of people looking for a secret formula for success and power. They are
attracted to the idea of strategy for that very reason.

Linear

For every piece of advice that points in one direction there are invariably a dozen which point
somewhere else; strategy isn’t a “one size fits all” topic and many best-selling books on the
subject are dangerous because they attempt to position one strategic approach as a universal
solution.

An apparent contradiction, only if you think in terms of strict formulas for getting power,
advice that tells you to do this and do that. But I adhere to a much higher form of strategy
that asks you to think in the moment, to adapt what you are doing to the situation.

People who want everything to be consistent and formulaic never get far in life. Such a way
of thinking is so mechanical and rigid, the opposite of my approach.

It becomes really formulaic, almost in a clichéd way, where there are these buzz words, this
A B and C business and you just have to learn these techniques and go out and apply them
and its really kind of mechanical and not strategic or creative.

In the West, so much of our theories on war are so conventional and so linear.

They do not want to think on their own; they just want a recipe to follow. In their minds
strategy is a series of steps to be followed toward a goal. They want these steps spelled out
for them by an expert or a guru. Believing in the power of imitation, they want to know
exactly what some great person has done before. Their maneuvers in life are as mechanical as
their thinking.

People who want everything to be consistent and formulaic never get far in life. Such a way
of thinking is so mechanical and rigid

The problem we all face in strategy, and in life, is that each of us is unique and has a unique
personality. Our circumstances are also unique; no situation ever really repeats itself. But most
often we are barely aware of what makes us different--in other words, of who we really are.
Our ideas come from books, teachers, all kinds of unseen influences. We respond to events
routinely and mechanically instead of trying to understand their differences. In our dealings
with other people, too, we are easily infected by their tempo and mood. All this creates a kind
of fog. We fail to see events for what they are; we do not know ourselves.

Circumstance
“The Devil is in the details.”

Anything living is in a constant state of flux. Nothing stays the same. And so our thoughts
must constantly adapt to what is happening around us and never get stuck on this idea, or that
way of doing things.

Nothing is static. Things only have meaning in relation to one another. An event here will
never mean the same if it happens there.

In real life there is a time to focus and a time to diversify, a time to invest and a time to
restructure. Half the battle is knowing your situation, and deciding which strategy is
appropriate; the rest comes down to execution, that less talked-about aspect of business
without which strategy is meaningless.

Nevertheless there are some characteristics of good strategy that transcend the situational. If
we work on the assumption that strategy requires a knowledge of your desired destination
(what you want your business to be or become) and a relentless commitment to excellence in
achieving this, strategy becomes the roadmap, the backbone upon which plans are based. This
is important, because without a clear view of the goal, strategy is unlikely to be successful.
How could it be? It’s like trying to figure out directions without knowing where you’re going.

Sun–tzu is a true strategist, as opposed to the usual type we find who simply regurgitates
some preconceived maxims, or the kind of mindless military jargon we see nowadays. He
makes you focus on the circumstances, and how you can approach them from angles.

It depends on your circumstances. It’s all relative. If you are dealing with stressful situations,
chapter three on maintaining your presence of mind would be particularly helpful, as would
chapter 4 if you find it hard to motivate yourself.

It really depends on what you’re after and where you are.

To separate yourself from such a crowd, you need to get rid of a common misconception: the
essence of strategy is not to carry out a brilliant plan that proceeds in steps; it is to put
yourself in situations where you have more options than the enemy does. Instead of grasping
at Option A as the single right answer, true strategy is positioning yourself to be able to do A,
B, or C depending on the circumstances.

The essence of strategy is not process, to have formulas-steps to follow, it is to be fluid and to
respond to the needs of the current situation. Strategy is not rigid, and what worked in the
past, may not work in the present. Every war, every situation is different, so you need to be
fluid and flexible, adjusting your actions to the needs of the current battle that you face, not
clinging to the past victories, and rigid processes and formulas. Strategy is not formulas to be
repeated. There is no secret to power, no war is the same as the other, no past tactics can be
successful on the current battle. You need to learn the elements of strategy and then adjust
your moves to the current situation.

If you want to be a good strategist, you can never just go off a principle you read in a book.
You need to adapt what you do to the situation; no rule of thumb is true all the time. It
depends on your circumstances. It’s all relative.
The best you can do is to rid yourself of lazy, conventional patterns of thinking. Advancing is
not always good; retreating is not always weak. In fact, in moments of danger or trouble,
refusing to fight is often the best strategy: by disengaging from the enemy, you lose nothing
that is valuable in the long run and gain time to turn inward, rethink your ideas, separate the
true believers from the hangers-on. Time becomes your ally. By doing nothing outwardly,
you gain inner strength, which will translate into tremendous power later, when it is time to
act. War is deceptive: you may think that you are strong and that you are making advances
against an enemy, but time may show that you were actually marching into great danger. You
can never really know, since our immersion in the present deprives us of true perspective.
Understand: the future belongs to groups that are fluid, fast, and nonlinear.

Your task as a strategist is simple: to see the differences between yourself and other people,
to understand yourself, your side, and the enemy as well as you can, to get more perspective
on events, to know things for what they are. In the hubbub of daily life, this is not easy--in
fact, the power to do it can come only from knowing when and how to retreat. If you are
always advancing, always attacking, always responding to people emotionally, you have no
time to gain perspective. Your strategies will be weak and mechanical, based on things that
happened in the past or to someone else. Like a monkey, you will imitate instead of create.

When asked why his management style varies from individual to individual, natural foods
executive Jeff Tripician says, “Because I want to optimize their performance. Since people
are different, I get better performance from them if I manage different people differently.”
There’s a benefit—“to optimize their performance.” We don’t manage different people and
different situations differently because it’s easier—frequently it isn’t. We manage different
people differently because if we optimize their performance, we optimize the performance of
our team.

Greene likes to inverse laws by flipping them on their head and showing how a reversal of
a law can be just as, if not more effective than the law itself. It is up to your analytical
mind to deduce whether or not the law should be applied as it is presented or if the nuances of
the situation at hand would benefit you more if you were to instead reverse a law. It is your
responsibility to understand the situation you find yourself in and how you must behave in
regard to that. You must be able to comprehend the people who make up the social landscape
you are in (their statuses, usefulness, opinions of and relations with one another, their
motives, desires etc.)

Essentially, one must tailor how they implement laws to the target of their devices, bearing in
mind the scenario and the implications/consequences that applying the law will have.

You could not typically apply both laws to the same person at the same time.